Early Bird Triathlon: My First Triathlon

The author of this race report (Jackie DeGouffe) is in the picture to the right. She is 4th from the left. The one with the huge smile and energy flowing out of her.


I’m on the pool deck, lined up with many other swimmers. “I’ve done this so many times before” I tell myself. “I am a good fast swimmer. I grew up swimming” I repeat over and over in my mind. I dive in, my heart starts beating fast – I mean really fast. It doesn’t stop. I realize I’m freaking out. I breaststroke the whole way, with many people passing me. 3 minutes slower than my target. I complete the swim and move on.

One day later, I keep thinking about that swim and what it has brought to light. I still have this huge monkey on my back. A voice telling me I can’t, or that I shouldn’t or that I’m not good enough – and some days it’s very loud. I’ve worked on this in other aspects of my life (namely work) but never in sport. I’m excited to dig in more as to why I still think this way, and to get over it. I welcome any book or podcast recommendations here by the way.

Ok now onto the actual triathlon story.

I trained with a Beginner Triathlon Group as part of Team Triumph. Training was mostly virtual and it was just what I needed. Balancing 2 kids and an unplanned promotion at work, dealing with stress is something that I was really starting to get used to and fairly good at. Virtual training allowed me to fit training into my day, and not have the stress of making it somewhere for a specific time, and the group was so supportive and understanding of the weeks where next to no training happened (thanks covid).

16 weeks of training was complete and race day was here. I woke up excited, crying in my car on the way to the race listening to Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb”. I am so proud of myself. I love the community I’m now part of. I feel like I’m driving home.

We set up our transition zones and get out onto the pool deck. I won’t repeat the swim story and I started with – we all know how that went – so I’ll start with the transition from the swim to bike. Out of the pool to the t-zone was 1km. It felt fine – it actually was the perfect distance for me to shake off my swim experience. Transition was organized and easy. Big thanks to Coach Julia for all the tips, tricks, and fixing up my zone. I was in and out of there in a flash.

The bike was a funny one. I started out strong, then for some reason took some unsolicited advice from a biker who told me to “spin my legs faster so I’d be better for the run”. I randomly start shifting my gears like an idiot, for god knows what reason other than that guy looked like he knew more than me. At the end of loop I decide “hey, just ride your normal ride – you’ve done this before!” I relax and start gaining speed effortlessly. I look up and out at the river and enjoy the sun and see kayakers peacefully paddling on the water. I channel my inner Coach Gabi who kept telling us over the past 16 weeks to have fun, smile and enjoy. I smile. I think in that moment that Coach Gabi would be proud of me. Now my head is truly in the race – and I learn that race mentality isn’t all about acting like a tiger or some sort of animal that’s ready to pounce. It’s actually about having the ability to be yourself in a sea of competitors – and have the confidence to do what works for you and what you’ve trained for – and to relax and be happy!

Transition from bike to run was EASY. Wow – what a quick change. I get out on the running path and feel fine! I practiced brick runs and didn’t notice any heavy feelings in my legs. Maybe it’s because it was so hot. I finish the 5k 1 min/km slower than my usual pace – and I’m happy with that. I am having fun! For about 2km I ran behind an ironman (so many ironman tattoos by the way at this race). As I pass him as he stops for a walk break, I yell: “It was a pleasure to run with an ironman!” he yells back: “that was a long time ago!” I yell back: “still counts!” we both smile. This is the real fun.

At this point I’ll mention that I’m running this race without ANY tech. My fancy watch is a useless lump on my wrist. My nerves made me forget to set my watch for the swim, then at the bike, and by the time I got to the run I felt that my time didn’t matter at this point, so I just went with what felt right.

I finish the run with a hop over the finish line. I did it! My friends are there at the end and give me a big hug. They give me water and electrolytes. I get overwhelmed and cry. I felt so happy in that moment. I, a mom of 2 with a family and career, managed to finish a triathlon, and within my time expectation.

On my way home, I call my parents to say hi. My mom asks how it went. I tell her it went well and she says “wow, you’re going to be in the Olympics!” My family has always been supportive of my late-life pickup of endurance sports. In their eyes, I’m an elite athlete (as there are zero people in my family who do this sort of thing).

I get home and my kids are so proud. “MOM!!! Did you do your swim, bike, run??? Did you WIN?” This was the cutest to me. Having my kids see me train, then go away to do a race was probably the best influence I could have set for them. My kids are now into biking and swimming and my 5 year old wants to do a “swim, bike, run” too. Something that started out in my mind as a selfish endeavor became anything but. Kids really do what you do, and they are always watching.

The morning I wake up after the race I think: Is triathlon for me? For sure the training is, as I love being outside, I think I really love biking now, and it feels good to switch up sports during the week from a health and wellness standpoint. Is racing for me? That’s still up in the air in my mind, for the following reasons:

  • I felt equally inspired and intimidated by the more seasoned athletes, and wondered if I would ever really fit in
  • I would need to work more on my mental game, but then again, maybe if I do it more, it’ll get easier each time? This seems logical…
  • There were some really serious and angry people. Lots of yelling in packs of people (and in one case racers arguing with people who were crossing the street because they live in the area. It was interesting to see – and happy to have chosen to stay back from it.

I’m on the fence for signing up for another one, but as I say this, I’m also googling adult swim practices in my area in the fall to get more practice with other people. I also look at my newly purchased swim float and wonder how I would do in open water this summer. I’ll go give it a try!

In a nutshell, here’s the breakdown of what went well, and not well for my first triathlon.

What went well:

  • The training team and program
  • Making new friends
  • Biking again
  • Getting fitter
  • Transition zones (I crushed that I feel)
  • My attitude overall
  • A great learning experience
  • Amazing influence on my kids and family
  • Seeing and cheering on all the amazing athletes on my team (many of who won their age categories!)
  • Having Coach Julia there to help
  • Having the voice of Coach Gabi in my mind to help me have more fun
  • Seeing a familiar face at the bike dismount with Brenda
  • Crossing that finish line!

What didn’t go well:

  • My confidence and letting my mind get the best of me for the swim
  • Feeling intimidated and like I don’t fit in
  • Having mental blocks that keep me from progressing (example: I can run faster than I do, I just don’t due to that voice in my head)

As you can see, much more went well than didn’t. After I write this, I get the urge to try this again – to continue and to get better.

After all, yesterday was me, getting my baseline time. I wonder where I can go from here. But for now, let’s get some coffee going and enjoy the rest of the long weekend.

Jackie is a certified holistic nutritionist (with the Alive Academy out of Richmond, B.C.) in her spare time. Full-time she works in an office (like many of you!) and is always looking for ways to make her busy life happy and healthy. She is a mom to 2 lovely daughters and a wife to a picky-eater husband who always keeps her on her toes when she is creating healthy recipes. You can follow her blog Healthy Stuff Jackie Does here

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